Ogoni: Harassment and Intimidation of Activists in Nigeria.
Rivers State Police Headquarters
August 10, 2004
Dear Commissioner of Police,
I write to express concern about an incident which occurred on July 10, 2004, in K-Dere, Ogoniland, Rivers State, when two British activists, Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn, were taken into custody, questioned and held for more than ten hours, first by the police, then by the State Security Services (SSS). The details of the case, based on the activists’ own account of events, are described below. Our concern relates not only to this particular incident, which happens to involve two British nationals, but to a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation of Nigerian activists by the security forces, particularly by the police and the SSS, as documented in the enclosed Human Rights Watch report “Renewed Crackdown on Freedom of Expression,” published in December 2003.
Tim Concannon, director of the non-governmental organization Stakeholder Democracy Network, and Tim Nunn, an artist and photographer, were visiting Nigeria to document the living conditions of communities in the oil-producing areas of the Niger delta and to work on an artistic project of portraits from regions where people live in the proximity of oil extraction.
On the morning of July 10, when they were in K-Dere, Ogoniland, they were called to a council meeting of local traditional chiefs, which was violently disrupted by a group of young men. Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn were not involved in the scuffle and left the meeting. A short while later, they were told that they had to go to a meeting at the paramount leader’s palace. Soon after they got there, four policemen arrived and told the two men that they had to accompany them to the police station. Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn were made to enter the police vehicle and were taken to Kpor police station, at around 11.45 a.m.
The police chief superintendent at Kpor assured them that they were “not under arrest” but did not explain why they had been taken there. They were not questioned and were kept in the police station for about forty-five minutes. The chief superintendent then told them that they would be transferred to the police headquarters at Bori and personally accompanied them there. At Bori police headquarters, they spent about one hour with the Area Commander. Again, they were not questioned or accused of any criminal offence, nor did the police explain to them why they were there. The Area Commander then informed them that they would be transferred to the headquarters of the SSS at Port Harcourt. The chief superintendent from Bori accompanied them to the SSS.
At the SSS, their passports were confiscated and they were questioned about their activities since they had arrived in Nigeria, the arrangements for their visit, their links to Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) who had been hosting them, and their plans following the morning’s incident in which the meeting had been disrupted. One of the SSS officers asked them why they had come into the area to embarrass the Nigerian government. The two men were asked to give statements about the circumstances leading to their arrest. They were then released, some time between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., on the understanding that they, along with Ledum Mitee, would return the following day for an interview with the director of the SSS and that they would bring all their equipment. The SSS officers retained their passports.
The following day, they returned to the SSS office. The SSS director told Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn that they had put their own lives in danger by visiting Ogoniland. He questioned their motives for the visit, claiming that he knew they were human rights activists. After about one hour, the SSS released them and returned their passports to them. However, they seized the film from their cameras and the disk from their minidisk recorder.
The two men were not physically ill-treated during their period in police and SSS custody. However, at no point were they given any explanation for why they were taken into custody or questioned, nor did they receive any apology for the harassment. Their camera film and minidisk were not returned to them.
This incident is illustrative of a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation of activists in Nigeria. The enclosed Human Rights Watch report, “Renewed Crackdown on Freedom of Expression,” documents how Nigerian activists, journalists and real or perceived critics of the government have repeatedly been victims of intimidation, harassment and violence at the hands of the government and security forces. Several such incidents have taken place in Rivers State; members of MOSOP, in particular, have frequently been targeted for voicing their criticisms of the government. The latest incident involving Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn is just one of several cases of harassment reported to us since the publication of the enclosed report.
We urge you to launch an investigation into this incident and to provide an explanation to Tim Concannon and Tim Nunn as to why they were taken into custody and why their passports and recording equipment were confiscated. Peaceful activists should be free to carry out their work without harassment, intimidation or threats of arrest. Should the police or the SSS have had a specific reason for questioning these or other activists, they should have informed the individuals concerned as soon as they took them into custody and explained to them the legal basis and circumstances under which they were being questioned.
I would be grateful for your reassurance that other activists and members of civil society in Rivers State are allowed to conduct their work freely and without fear for their safety, and that the Rivers state police force is given clear instructions to put an end to all such intimidation of harassment.
Executive Director, Africa Division
cc: Inspector General of Police, Abuja
Source: Human Rights Watch